DOES CLASS MATTER?
THE EFFECT OF SOCIAL CLASS
ON JOURNALISTS' ETHICAL
By Teresa Correa
Tliis study investigated experimentally whether social class of people
who appear in neios stories influences Chilean journalists' ethical rea-
soning. Based on schema, social identity, and moral development theo-
ries, it found that journalists applied loioer levels of ethical reasoning
luhen faced with an ethical dilemma associated with the poor, an effect
moderated hy participants' invohcment in the story. Psychological
mechanisms—such as involvement, mental elaboration about stories'
subjects, and identification with them —infiuenced participants' ethical
Social class is a commanding force shaping news media produc-
tion that is often overlooked. Because class is associated with income,
power, and status,' it is pivotal in the news-making process and journal-
ists' work. As Gans^ wrote: "The news deals mostly with those who
hold the power.
., with the most powerful officials in the most powerful
.. people (who] dominate the sodoeconomic hierarchy."
However, class is scarcely mentioned in newsrooms and few stud-
ies on news media deal with it.^ The poor are both underrepresented in
news coverage and linked to negative stereotypes and criminality.' This
negaäve coverage of the poor occurs in the United States and else-
where,^ but is especially relevant in countries such as Chile, where
sodoeconomic inequality is a defining aspect of society.
Although work routines and organizational and extra-media pres-
sures shapie news content^ and explain, in part, this bias against the
poor,^ it has been argued that individual reporters' prejudices also play
a role.*' Most journalists are college-educated people who usually report
about their known environment** and who have been socialized in
fession and in organizations that tend to value more powerful sectors of
society.'" Consequently, they may rely on stereotypes when covering
people from lower socioeconomic classes. This may occur when faced
with an ethical decision such as, for instance, deciding whether to pub-
lish a story, how to publish it, or when to run it.
Teresa Correa is a Ph.D. student in the School of Journalism at ihe University of Texas
projixt was funded
the Liberal Arti Gradiiali' Research Felhu'ship
from the CoHe;^c of Liberal Arts, UmvcTsity of Texan at Austin. The aiillwr ¡hanks Reitita
Cokmaufor helpful comments and the School of journalism at Diego Portales University
for recruiting the parlicipants.